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IRAQ: Sudan to Yemen to South Dakota to Iraq, with Arabic.

September 21, 2008 |  4:13 pm

Sudan1Every Marine has a story to tell about the life's journey that took them to the Anbar province of Iraq.

Lance Cpl. Migdad H. Mustafa's route was more circuitous than most. He was born in Sudan, and his family moved to Yemen, and then were admitted to the U.S. as political refugees when Mustafa was 14.

The family settled in South Dakota, home to numerous Sudanese.

"I was a little crazy growing up, so I decided to put that craziness to use," Mustafa said in a telephone interview. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and went to boot camp in San Diego.

Now he's deployed at Al Asad with the Camp Pendleton-based 5th Regional Combat Team. His official duties are as a combat engineer — building things, blowing up things — and as a driver for the MRAP, the mine-resistant vehicle credited for saving U.S. lives.

But he has another skill that has proved invaluable: he speaks fluent Arabic, his native language.

The language gap continues to plague the U.S. effort throughout Iraq.

"The Marines only know a little Arabic like 'stop or I'll shoot,' " said Mustafa, now 21. "Most Iraqis only know 'mister, mister' so it helps everyone for me to be able to explain things."

And since he is not working as an official interpreter, he can also hear what the Iraqis are saying when they think none of the Americans know their language.

Like the other day when he overheard two Iraqi soldiers arguing about whether to stop a suspicious truck. The Iraqi officer refused a request by an Iraqi sergeant.

Mustafa heard the whole discussion and reported it to his superiors. Result: the Marines stopped the truck and arrested the driver and his brother. The former was an alleged insurgent, the latter was wanted on various criminal charges.

— Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Lance Cpl. Migdad H. Mustafa. Credit: Marine Lance Cpl. Paul Torres

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.